Pain In The Arsenal

Wilfried Zaha showed Arsenal the importance of a direct, dynamic winger on Sunday. Now Diogo Jota has done the same. It is time to learn, at both ends of the pitch.

Speedy wingers. They have long been both the bane and the need of Arsenal. At one end, they are the spear in the side, the needle in the backside, the thorn that just can’t be rid of; at the other, it is the desperate, painful absence, the type of player that fans could only dream of watching, instead doomed to witness the aimless, lethargic passing of uncreative, indirect replacements.

On Sunday, it was the role of Wilfried Zaha. The Crystal Palace man, who is largely considered as one of the best players outside of the top six in the Premier League, tortured the Gunner defenders throughout.

None could keep tabs on him. His speed and deceptive strength combined with sensational skill and touch, made him extremely difficult to tackle. He bounced off would-be challengers with ease, ran the channels dutifully, winning several fouls, releasing pressure from his team at the other end, and scored the critical second goal after shrugging off the hapless Shkodran Mustafi and sliding a good finish under the onrushing Bernd Leno.

Just three days later it was Diogo Jota. With a similarly snaky dribbling style, though with more brawn and bite and less silkiness and skill, Jota too ran the Arsenal defenders ragged. It was his drive midway through the first half that led to Nacho Monreal’s foul and Reuben Neves’ wonderful freekick to open the scoring. Jota then put together another similar run, this time leaving Sokratis for dead and smashing the ball past Leno for his own goal.

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Meanwhile, while Zaha and then Jote were plainly illustrating the impact of having a direct, dribbling, speedy wide attacker who can win fouls, score goals and cause panic whenever they get the ball, Arsenal were floundering, the likes of Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan floating through matches without any semblance of purpose or impetus.

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For Unai Emery, the need for a winger like Zaha or Jota is plain. And per some reports this week, Emery has identified the position as the greatest priority this summer. Signing either Zaha or Jota, who is only 22 years of age, would not be the worst way to solve this problem. Both proved their quality in their respective matches against Emery’s team.

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Meanwhile, full-back and strong, one-on-one defenders all seems like a major issue. Left-back — and not left wing-back — has been a weakness of the squad all season, with Emery distrusting of Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal lacking the requisite athleticism and speed, and Hector Bellerin has missed serious time through injury, the latest of which being a season-ending ACL tear.

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The impact of wingers, at both ends of the pitch, has shown the need for Emery and the club to sign players that are comparable to them and containing of their threat, neither of which they currently have.